Curbs sought on Marcos’ P13-B contingent funds
Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday moved to amend a special provision in the Office of the President’s (OP) request for P13 billion in contingent funds for next year to explicitly prohibit the executive branch from transferring the allotment as confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) of other government offices.
At the start of the Senate plenary budget debates, Hontiveros reiterated that the contingent funds of the OP in the proposed P5.768-trillion national budget for 2024 should not be spent for the confidential expenses of civilian state agencies.
She pointed out that this was done in December 2022 when P125 million from the OP’s allocation was converted as confidential funds of Vice President Sara Duterte.
The opposition senator made the proposal a day after a group of economic and legal experts petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the fund transfer unconstitutional and to direct the concerned government officials to return the money to the state coffers.
“As a matter of fiscal prudence, we would like to include the augmentation of the CIF under the Contingent Fund along with the prohibition to tap the said fund for the purchase of, say, motor vehicles,” Hontiveros said.
“But definitely, what I have in mind as a proposed amendment… will not pertain to security agencies that have clear national defense and public safety mandates and expertise, but civilian agencies that don’t have similar direct mandates,” she clarified.
As approved by the House of Representatives, the senator pointed out that the contingent fund was intended to “cover the funding requirements of new or urgent activities or projects” of government agencies, including local government units and government-owned and -controlled corporations.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, who was speaking on behalf of the government’s economic managers as chair of the Senate finance committee, did not object to Hontiveros’ suggestion.
“I think there is some merit in that. But I am just being told that if it is too broad, it may hamper some of the security agencies,” Angara said.
“So perhaps there may be an exception to the rule, or an exception to your proposal, just in case there are emergencies,” he added.
Angara said there had been instances in the past wherein agencies involved in law enforcement and national security needed additional funds for their operations.
Hontiveros agreed, saying: “This representation would have no quarrel with that.”
‘Smooth’ budget approval
Meanwhile, appropriations panel chair Rep. Elizaldy Co said he was optimistic that reconciling the differing provisions of the House and Senate versions of the proposed 2024 national budget would be “smooth” as senators agreed to remove confidential funds of all civilian government agencies.
Co made the remarks after Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Francis Escudero separately confirmed that they have unanimously agreed to remove confidential funds from all civilian agencies.
“This jibes with or is a vindication of the decision of the House of Representatives to realign those appropriations,” Co said in a statement, referring to their reallocation of P1.23 billion in confidential funds to government agencies defending the West Philippine Sea.
The Ako Bicol representative said this decision of senators would expedite the approval of the proposed budget for next year.
“With such consensus, we foresee a smooth bicameral conference on the 2024 national budget,” Co said.
House Bill No. 8980, or the 2024 General Appropriations Act, was passed by the lower chamber last September.
Once the Senate passes its version of the 2024 national budget, representatives from both chambers of Congress will meet in a bicameral conference committee to reconcile disagreeing provisions of their versions of the national budget.
Both chambers will then ratify the bicameral conference committee report and send the final version of the bill to President Marcos for review and signature.